Arafat’s Posthumous Victory

letter-447577_1280

Something about the scene struck me as completely incongruous. The members of the second Am Echad delegation – a group of concerned American Jews representing a wide spectrum of American Orthodoxy – were gathered at the Knesset to exchange views with Knesset members from a number of parties.

At some point, Eliezer “Cheetah” Cohen, a pony-tailed, former IDF helicopter pilot, who served as an unlikely representative of the Russian party, Israel Beitainu arrived late. He entered in a state of high agitation. “I just learned that the Muslim Waqf is destroying Har HaBayis,” he told us. He went on to describe how heavy bulldozers were being used to transform an underground area known as Solomon’s Stables into a new mosque. The dirt being removed by massive bulldozers from the site – tons of it – was being dumped into the Kidron Valley.

The secular “Cheetah” described all this with much pain and anguish in his voice. While those of us who direct our hearts three times each day towards HaKodesh HaKodoshim absorbed what he was telling us with a calm demeanor and occasional sympathetic tongue clucking. Thus the incongruity.

The memory of that meeting returned recently with the announcement that the Waqf is engaging in another major project on Har Habayis. This time it is digging a 1300 foot trench over 1/12 meters deep, again using bulldozers and heavy machinery. All this has been done with the permission of Prime Minister Olmert.

Though under Israeli law, such digging at archaeological sites is supposed to be supervised by trained archaeologists, and heavy equipment cannot be used, the Antiquities Authority has completely abandoned any responsibility for supervising the Waqf’s digging. By way of comparison, in a certain neighborhood of Beit Shean residents are prohibited from so much as putting a hoe into the ground lest they injure some Roman antiquities.

According to reports of archaeologists who have viewed the site of the new trench, the bulldozers hit what may have been a foundation wall of the Ezras Nashim in the Beis HaMikdash. What might well have beenthe first wall of the Beis HaMikdash exposed since the Churban has now been pulverized.

Nor is this the first time that important remains of the Temple have lost due to the absolute disregard of the Waqf for the Jewish treasures buried on Har HaBayis. In the course of the 1999 construction over 6,000 tons of dirt from Har HaBayis was dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley. Israeli archaeologists sifting through the rubble discovered a meter-long stone fragment that likely came from one of the entrances to the Beis HaMikdash. One archaeologist described the fragment, at the time, as “the most important artifact ever discovered on Har HaBayis.”

Two years later, the Waqf began digging a long underground tunnel from the Al Aksa Mosque above the Hulda Gate towards Solomon’s Stables. This time 1500 tons of material were dumped into the Kidron Valley. An Israeli graduate student, Tzachi Zweig, who combed through the site found thousands of artifacts going back to the time of the Bais HaMikdash.

To say that the Waqf has conducted these massive construction projects with disregard for the treasures from the Temple period that might be lost or destroyed is an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that one of the purposes of these projects has been to destroy the evidence of the Jewish connection to our holiest site.

At Camp David in the summer of 2000, Yasir Arafat assured an astounded President Clinton that the Bais HaMikdash never stood on Har HaBayis. That claim has been frequently repeated by the Palestinian media and leaders. And it is central to the Palestinian narrative that Jews are recent colonizers in Eretz Yisrael, with no historical connection to the Land. Destroying evidence of the Beis HaMikdash serves that absurd narrative.

But Arafat revealed a more subtle intent at Camp David as well, with his insistence that Israel cede sovereignty over Har HaBayis to the Palestinians. He wanted to force Israeli leaders to admit that Judaism’s holiest site is more important to Moslems than it is to Israeli Jews, despite the fact that it is nowhere mentioned in the Koran and for centuries Jerusalem was a neglected backwater in the Ottoman Empire. Between 1948 and 1967 no Arab leader even visited Har HaBayis except for King Abdullah I of Jordan. Yet imagine the riots that would take place around the world today were Israel to attempt to limit Waqf building on Har HaBayis.

By forcing such a tacit admission, Arafat knew, he would sever one more cord binding secular Israelis to their past and their Land. And by so doing, he would weaken their resolve in the face of Palestinian efforts to evict them from the Land.

To a large extent, Arafat succeeded. The major building projects on Har HaBayis in 1999, 2001, and today were all undertaken with the approval or tacit support of the Israeli government and engendered little public protest. Today the outcry of a few archaeologists has barely evoked a yawn in the Israeli media. That apathy attests to how little importance most secular Israelis attach to Har Habayis.

BUT SECULAR ISRAELIS are not the only ones to remain apathetic. The story of the new tunnel and the possible destruction of a wall from the Beis HaMikdash have barely made a ripple in the chareidi press. That’s what got me thinking about Cheetah again.

The phenomenon of chareidi apathy obviously cannot be explained in the same terms as that of secular Israelis. It does not derive from any lack of connection to the Land or Jewish history.

In part, perhaps, the Torah world did not respond to the alarms sounded by a handful of archaeologists because of the long-standing antagonism between the Torah community and the archaeologists. The solution from the perspective of the Torah community is not for Jewish archaeologists to go up to Har HaBayis to supervise the Waqf’s construction projects. It is easier to avoid thinking about the Waqf’s desecrations than to find a solution.

But there may be more to it than that. To some extent, we have so etherealized the Bayis HaMikdash and Har HaBayis that we have forgotten that they are real places, not just concepts, and that the Bais HaMikdash really stood on Har HaBayis.

The Gemara at the end of Makkos (24b) relates that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariyah, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva approached Har HaBayis after the Churban. They saw a fox go out of the place where the Kadosh HaKadoshim once stood. They cried; Rabbi Akiva laughed. Rabbi Akiva asked them why they cried, and they answered, “Of this place it was said, “A non-kohen who enteres will die,” and now foxes walk through it. Should we not cry?”

Today we witness far worse things than foxes walking through the ruins of the Kadosh HaKadoshim. But we have lost the ability to either laugh or cry. We just don’t care.

This article appeared in Mishpacha on 19th September

You may also like...

18 Responses

  1. Nechama says:

    I want to know who and what gives Mr Olmert quite so much power.

    Is Israel’s democracy quite as corrupt as it seems? Perhaps many of the countries’ policies are in the people’s best interests (and perhaps not) but I just think that Olmert really doesn’t have the country’s backing behind him as a person. How did he get elected?

    It seems to me that the regular people vote for a party, and the party chooses it’s leader. But how much free choice do the party members have in chosing their leader? Is it a condition for being on the list as an MK, that you vote for a certain PM?

    I’m not sure I want Israel’s political structure to come crashing down (could we build an interim government or would there be civil war) but I would like some vision of a more democratic State of Israel. In America, I don’t see that the President of America gets to make quite so many decisions on his own. To a large degree he is answerable to his constituents. Who is Olmert answerable to for all these little things he promises, like letting the Wakf build. We little guys really don’t know what is going on and what he received in exchange (promise to keep the Arabs in Jerusalem quiet? Some real estate :) So I am not criticizing this particular exchange, since I do not know what happened in the background. But I do want to know why he has such absolute power.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    kar, the Israeli government could stop it overnight, but not easily or bloodlessly. It would do so by sending soldiers (or cops, but it’s really the kind of duty that requires soldiers) to stop the work. I doubt the Waqf would stop just because a government in whose authority they don’t believe told them to.

    IIRC, the last time the Israeli government did anything on temple mount it was to open the a tunnel to tourists when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister. The territories exploded in riots. Later when Ariel Sharon, then a member of Knesset, went up to temple mount it triggered the second Intifada. Do you really expect that anything done today would have a lesser effect?

    Anyway, Jonathan Rosenblum talked about the reaction of the Charedi world. For many secular Israelis Beit haMikdash is so far from their perception that it is not worth dying over. My point is that that’s what it would take – literally dying over it.

  3. cvmay says:

    Thank you “Cheetah” Cohen for standing up for the sanctity of the makom hamikdash.
    Why was not an eyebrow raised in Torah circles? Was even a moment of tzar experienced by the frum velt, that hashems bayit is being razed, destroyed and demolished? How many come to protest when kevarim of the bayit sheni are discovered in a construction site? Would there be a loud cry if c”vs (chas v’shalom) sefarim from a yeshiva were publicly ripped to shreds? Why are we up in arms to renovate a shul in Volozin, as askanim travel to ensure sanctity & protection of graves in Europe?
    Point blank, we are concerned about some things but NOT others. Question is WHY? 1) Klal Yisroel has a limited amount of energy to fulfill its mission in this world, the majority of energies are dedicated to building from within, yeshivos, kollelim, chesed organizations, kiruv centers, job opportunities, hospital and more.
    2)Eretz Yisroel and particularly the Temple Mount just ain’t on the drawing board. Parts of Yiddishkeit have been sublimated and even erased from hashkafas hatorah, terms like ‘Geulah’ ‘Moshiach’ ‘Taharah & Kedushah’ are absent. The yearning for the bais shlishi is ethereal and found soley within the ‘Messianic Chevra’. Nathan Birnbaum wrote in the early 1900’s a phamplet called “Confessions”, describing how the litvach world diminished their physical yearning for the Moshiach. A lengthy article is needed on this subject alone, personally it is not ‘Arafat’s Victory” rather our FAILURE!!

  4. kar says:

    Ori:
    The Israeli government could stop it overnight, if they had the will. No? What am I missing?

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Kar: This is particularly so since we dont want to do anything much ourselves – we just want to not give Arabs license to destroy the remains

    Ori: The only way to stop the Waqf is with violence. If you got together five thousand Yeshiva students with clubs and got up on temple mount, the work would stop. Maybe a hundred of them would die, and a few hundreds would be wounded.

    I’d say that risking one’s life is doing something, a lot more than paying money as in the Volozhin case.

  6. kar says:

    “I disagree with you totally. The reason we seem to not care is because there is no reason to care about this. If i told you that the Vatican has the menorah, and tomorrow we hear that they ground it up and threw it away, would i care? Not for the reason you are suggesting. Hashem will manage to figure out a way to get us the third Bais Hamikdash without it. We dont have to care, what should bother us however is that this is just a reminder that we are in golus. But for that we have many other daily reminders with Ajminejad etc.”

    Would you be upset if c”v the kosel was not there because it will be rebuilt bemehera beyemenu?

    On YeshivaWorld, there was a successful campaign to help save the building of Volozhin yeshiva. If we can raise money to help save the physical plant of Volozhin, we can surely care about what happens to the remains of the beis hamikdash itself! This is particularly so since we dont want to do anything much ourselves – we just want to not give Arabs license to destroy the remains.

  7. ES says:

    Maybe charedim think that since the Amoraim already expressed their sentiments, we are “yotzei” (exempt) and don’t need to get emotional about it anymore.

  8. barry says:

    My wife and I have participated (twice) in the sifting of “dumped” materials from Har haBayit. On our last trip, we found a number of (pieces of) pitcher/amphora handles (possibly Bayit Sheni, they said) and a coin (Byzantine).

    When I mentioned this to chareidi cousins–that I might have been holding part of a pitcher used for maaser sheni or a korban mincha
    during bayit sheni–their attitude was “so what”? Then, I said to them, if your father’s set of Rambam came from the library of the Vilna Gaon, or the Chofetz Chaim, it would be little different than today’s standard Rambam (OK, pre-Frankel)–but I doubt your father would let you use it–it would be that special. One nodded as if to say, ‘I get it’, but the other remained unmoved.

  9. Shlomo P says:

    I have a slightly different take, based on an idea I heard from R’ Zev Leff a number of times.
    The generation of the churban had their aveiros (sins) and were the cause of the destruction. What would happen if we had that temple? Would it survive, or would it too be destroyed? Nowadays we don’t actually have anything there to destroy, but the message must get through. So the goyim have to dig up something, and destroy that! Do you get the message? Could this be an actual churban? If not on the scale, but surely the message is there.
    This is so sad I should sit on the floor and weep and weep.
    The answer for us cannot be simply to raise a cry, involve the authorities and prevent the construction. We must deal with the message. Are we combating the root causes of the churban?

  10. Jewish Observer says:

    “Without working knowledge of what was actually there, in back of the Kosel, this holiest of mekomos does indeed remain shrouded in a hazy mist of a sacred ether.”

    – this perspective would also enhance our appreciation of having a Jewish state, a fact that is so easy to take for granted when our biggest problems are whether you get a better deal at Ma’adan Hamuchan or Shtielsel’s (is that place stll there?)

  11. Jewish Observer says:

    “The reason we seem to not care is because there is no reason to care about this”

    what the trafane brings up is a valid sevara that we must know when and how to apply. the chazon ish was famous for not alowing well meaning yeshiva bochurim to get involved with activities that threatened yiddishkeit. reasoning is that we have our responsibilities and g-d has his. we do not “own” the responsibility for all the big picture things. in fact, this is the same sevara that EY gedolim used in the early days of the state, when they were vigilant about protecxting yeshiva bochurim from participating in “valid” communal activities.

    This is because as bnei torah we have to keep our eye oon our responsibilities and trust g-d to worry about his. This is a key underpinning to the terutz for bochurim being patur from the army now; i.e. we can’t make g-d’s problem’s our problems. One thing we WILL be held accountable for is whether we lived up to our job description.

  12. Zachi Zweig says:

    comment to no. 6.

    Your attitute is the strongest reminder that we are in Galut.

  13. Trafene Baal Habas says:

    I disagree with you totally. The reason we seem to not care is because there is no reason to care about this. If i told you that the Vatican has the menorah, and tomorrow we hear that they ground it up and threw it away, would i care? Not for the reason you are suggesting. Hashem will manage to figure out a way to get us the third Bais Hamikdash without it. We dont have to care, what should bother us however is that this is just a reminder that we are in golus. But for that we have many other daily reminders with Ajminejad etc.

  14. Chaim says:

    I agree with Yehonasan’s final point. I would just add this.

    When our Charedi young men know so precious little about Churban Europe (many of our girls are at least learning this over the last several years), an event so recent in our past and a living part of most of our frum families, how do we expect them to connect emotionally with a part of our history that is so much farther the distant past?

    All tefillos and yearly references to the historical gemaras and midrashim (Tisha B’Av) notwithstanding, any real knowledge about Ancient Jewish history is left to the few who read the works of Rav Avigdor Miller, z”l or Rav Rottenberg, z”l. Not many I know do. I can’t escape the feeling that we have communicated to our sons that Jewish history is not really very important, even Jewish history about our mekomos HaKedoshim. Without working knowledge of what was actually there, in back of the Kosel, this holiest of mekomos does indeed remain shrouded in a hazy mist of a sacred ether.

  15. L.Oberstein says:

    You are completely right. In reading the history of the 6 Day War one sees that Moshe Dayan did not want to conquer the Old City. He called it “this Vatican”. I have been forced by reality to concur that giving the arabs anything may be counter-productive. It is a sign of weakness and leads to more concessions. I don’t anticipate the Peace Conference in Annapolis. How can Olmert or anyone give territory to such a weak and ineffectual “leader” like Abu Mazen?
    On a different note, if we are talking about descecrating the Kosel, then I find it very annoying that pushy professional beggars have taken over the Kosel. It is so disgusting to me that the only time I go to the Kosel now is if I can do it on Shabbos. How can you daven when they push and demand non stop. How many are legitimate and why are they the ones who own the territory, who gave them the monopoly?

  16. mnuez says:

    There are very few subjects that I feel SO strongly about that I just prefer not to read about them and think about them. The ongoing destruction of Har Habayis however is one of them. In fact, it often seems that it’s paramount among them.

    I’m commenting here not because I want to display any elegance of language or engage in any thought experiments about an issue, I’m commenting simply because I want your writing to echo. I need to say SOMETHING even though I feel that there’s nothing that I could say here that could do any good.

    Again, I apologize for my fumbling but I’m in mourning, I’m pained to no end and I know not what to say or why I should say it.

    I agree with you that it’s a spine-tingling tragedy that people who fast on Tisha Be’Av and who read the kinos in a wailing tone are able to know of what’s going on with Bayis Rishon without the kind of tzitter that drives them mad.

    Precisely because it DOES drive me mad I prefer to ignore it.

    Anyhow R’ Yoinasan, I thank you for feeling as I do and for expressing it and I hope that you actually have the ability to do something about, because if you do come across that ability, it’s doubtless that you’ll use it.

    Kol Tuv, and may our elter-zeidehs and elter-babbehs forgive us.

    mnuez
    http://www.mnuez.blogspot.com

  17. Bob Miller says:

    The problem is the disconnect between (A) the apparent current reality (Israel’s government as a puppet of foreign powers that is unwilling to defend the nation’s holy places) and (B) the known glorious future.

    (A) may be so depressing to some very religious Jews that they wait too passively for (B) without also doing what they already can do today to improve matters.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    How attached can you be to a physical location you may not enter(1), where a building you’ve never seen was once used by people you never knew to worship G-d in a manner you never practiced? It makes perfect sense for Charedim to etherialise the temple so much they don’t feel attached to the physical remains.

    (1) Due to Halacha. Secular Jews enter Har HaBayit to see The Dome of the Rock without problems most days.g